20 January 2010

Is "tough on crime" bankrupting California?

Everyone knows the state that was once the epitome of the American dream is crumbling into bankruptcy. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has recently proposed an $82-billion budget for California, a state with a population larger than Canada's. It will almost certainly be inadequate. Out of that $82-billion, $10-billion will go to the prison system. And that of course excludes police, courts, and all the other paraphernalia of criminal justice.

California's prison population has exploded with an array of get tough on crime legislation including the infamous "three strikes and your out" law. While the population of the state has doubled over the past thirty years, the number of prison inmates has increased almost six-fold. Before the incarceration binge, California spent about $5 on higher education for every $1 on prisons, today it spends more on prisons and corrections than on its universities. As a result, its once vaunted university system is in decline.

And, ironically, all this money spent on incarceration hasn't even produced a decent prison system. The system's physical and mental health care is so bad the federal courts have declared it unconstitutional, and its drug rehabilitation and vocational training programs are being dismantled.

The get tough on crime laws proposed by the Harper government are certainly not as severe as those in California, but it is nonetheless worth keeping in mind the road we are on to make sure we don't travel too far along it.

1 comment:

  1. Good point Bill. I recall reading of one sap whose "third strike" entailed filching a few video tapes and is now expected to serve thirty to forty years on the taxpayers' tab for it.

    California's woes are bountiful and manifest. They derive from several sources including the referendum/plebiscite legislation and fundamental flaws in the state constitution concerning funding and deficits. I guess if there's any real surprise it is that the state has floundered on for so long before it collapsed.